- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

The government's anti-drug ads are largely being ignored by teen-agers, and a survey finds no evidence that the multimillion-dollar campaign is discouraging drug use, according to President Bush's top drug policy adviser.
The survey, conducted by the Westat private research firm and the University of Pennsylvania, actually revealed an increase in drug use among some teen-agers who saw the television ads. But it noted that further analysis was necessary before the ads could be directly tied to the rise.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, headed by John P. Walters, said the ad campaign must be refocused and will be reviewed every six months.
"These ads aren't having an impact on teen-agers," said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the policy office. "We've spent millions on these ads and we are not seeing a return on the investment."
The ads are part of a five-year campaign devised by some of the nation's best-known public relations firms.
The evaluation is based on a survey of youths, ages 12 to 18, between September 1999 and December 2001. The survey did not reflect the effectiveness of the new ads that link drug use to funding terrorism.
Even parents were surveyed about ads calling for more involvement in their children's lives.
Those interviewed were shown the commercials on a laptop computer. The teen-agers then answered questions about their intentions to use drugs in the next 12 months.
The survey revealed no decline in the rate of drug use among those surveyed. But 80 percent of the parents who viewed the ads aimed at them were positively influenced to become more involved and ask their children questions about their social lives.
The commercials' lack of effect on teen-agers is not clear, but the survey suggests the ads do make an impression.
According to the survey, 70 percent of teen-agers remember seeing the ads about once a week.
The anti-drug ads are designed to approach teen-agers on their own turf, offering electric guitar and skateboarding as cool alternatives to a generation too complex for "Just Say No."
Alan Levitt, manager of the anti-drug media campaign, said, "We're pleased with the impact the campaign is having on parents and having on their behavior in monitoring kids, but it hasn't yet affected their own kids' behavior or attitudes."
The drug policy office partly blames the way the government creates the ads, saying it cuts policy directors out of the creative process.
Currently, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America advocacy group asks ad companies to donate their services and create television spots. The government buys television time to air these ads but effectively has little creative control.
Mr. Walters, who openly criticized the ads even before he took the post, is pledging to refocus the drug campaign. The campaign is now up for reauthorization for an additional five years.
Mr. Walters wants Congress to maintain the campaign's funding at its current level $180 million. The federal government spends $18 billion on anti-drug efforts every year.
Mr. Riley said the office will begin using focus groups to test ads before go they on the air an expensive process. The drug policy office also wants to target more heavily children between the ages of 14 and 16 and become more involved in creating the ads.

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